Toolbox Talk Topic: Welding Safety
I have some safety tips, so none of you end up a potato face. What’s a potato face? Well, that’s slang for a welder with flash-burned eyes.
Welding falls under the broader topic of hot work, which is any work that involves burning, welding, cutting, brazing, soldering, grinding, using fire- or spark-producing tools, or other work that produces a source of ignition.
Simply stated, welding is the joining of metal pieces or parts by heating them to the point of melting using a blowtorch, electric arc, or other means and uniting them by pressing or hammering.
Welding has been around since ancient times. In the Bronze Age, small gold circular boxes were made by pressure welding lap joints together.
The Egyptians were welding pieces of iron together around 1000 BC.
The art of blacksmithing started in the Middle Ages. Tools, agricultural implements, cooking utensils, and weapons were forged by heating pieces of wrought iron or steel until the metal became soft enough for shaping using a hammer, anvil, or chisel.
What we think of as modern welding started around the 19th century.
Acetylene was discovered in 1836 by Edmund Davy. Still, welding was not practical until around 1900, when a suitable blowtorch was developed.
In 1903 two French engineers developed oxygen-acetylene welding. Pure oxygen, instead of air, was used to increase the flame temperature to melt steel.
In the 1920s, arc welding electrodes were developed. They were capable of producing high-quality welds.
Since the 1920s, much more efficient techniques have been developed, including electron beam welding, friction welding, and laser welding.
There are numerous dangers to be aware of when performing welding or other hot work. Hot works safety is important as you will see in the statistics we have compiled.
In July 2018, Business Insider ran a story on the 34 deadliest jobs in America. The story was based on statistics from the Bureau of Labor. Welding, soldering, and brazing workers came in at #30.
A report published by NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) shows that from 2013 to 2017, fire departments in the U.S. responded to approximately 4,600 commercial fires involving hot work. These fires resulted in 15 deaths and 198 injuries.
In an article published in May of 2017, the NFPA reported on key lessons learned from the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s (CSB) investigation into hot work incidents. Between 2010 and 2013, the CSB reviewed 187 incidents, 85 of which resulted in a fire or explosion when working near a tank or container. These incidents resulted in 48 fatalities and 104 significant injuries.
Tip#1 Wear the Right PPE
Always keep your clothes fully buttoned and uncuffed when performing hot work and wear wool or insulated fabrics. Wear all the appropriate PPE, such as insulated gloves, steel-toed boots, leather aprons, and insulated coveralls. Don’t forget goggles and face shields or helmets, which protect your eyes and face from hot sparks and molten particles.
Tip#2 Hot Works Permits
An individual should inspect the area and identify precautions to be taken using a written hot works permitting program. Have fire extinguishers available in the immediate area. Move all combustibles at least 35 feet away or have them adequately protected or shielded. Implement a fire watch of at least 30 minutes. Some companies may have designated welding areas instead of a hot works-permitting program. Always perform welding in those areas to comply with your company’s requirements.
Tip#3 Compressed Gases
The gas inside an oxygen cylinder is compressed to 2,200 pounds per square inch (psi), yet the wall thickness of this cylinder is only one-quarter of an inch. If the cylinder falls over and the valve breaks, the gas would escape through an opening about the size of a pencil. This minor incident will turn that gas cylinder into a rocket, which can go through walls, ricochet, spin, and damage anything in its path. So be sure to cap and secure cylinders in the upright position to prevent them from falling over and damaging the valve or cylinder.
Acetylene is a gas that is almost universally used for welding. When mixed with oxygen, Acetylene burns at temperatures exceeding 5000 degrees Fahrenheit. Always store acetylene cylinders at least 20′ from oxygen cylinders. Suppose 20′ of separation is not possible: In that case, gases should be separated by a five-foot (minimum) non-combustible (half-hour fire rated) partition, such as a metal barrier.